Tamale Pie with Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce

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This is comfort food with a kick. The chili filling is rich with spices, peppers, tomatoes, seasoned little bites of steak, fresh corn and earthy black beans.

But the real reason I crave this dish is the creamy moist masa harina topping; it’s just like biting into a tamale, but without all the work.  Most tamale pies use cornbread for the topping, and while that’s ok, it’s nothing like a real tamale.  Tamales are delicious packets of masa dough wrapped in a corn husk and then steamed, so where cornbread is cakey and dry, a tamale is creamy, dense and moist.  There’s no contest, tamales win.  You’ll find bags of masa harina flour with the cornmeal, or in the international section of your store.  If you’ve made homemade tortillas with me, then you already have it in your cupboard!

I know the list of ingredients is long, and I usually shy away from that, but every once in a while the effort is worth it.  Make the chili base in the morning and forget about it until dinner.  Then quickly mix up the masa topping and you’re done.

The sour cream sauce gets plopped right on top of the pie and gives a cool tangy edge to every bite.

Tamale Pie with Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce
oven to 350

olive oil
1/2 pound steak, chopped in small pieces (If you are a meat lover, use a pound of meat)

  • Heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown the meat on all sides.  Remove it to a plate.

1 large Spanish onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 poblano or pasilla pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped

  •  Add a little more oil and then the onion, garlic, and peppers to the pan.  Saute for about 8 to 10 minutes until they start to soften.

1 10-oz can of red chile sauce (I used Las Palmas Red Chile Sauce)
1 7-oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped, sauce and all
1 cup of chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 cup beer
1 Tbsp chile powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper

  •  Add the above ingredients to the pan, along with the steak and its juices.  Bring to a simmer.  Simmer the chile for about 15 minutes.  Then add:

2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 15-oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

  • Simmer for another 15 minutes and check the seasonings.

1 Tbsp masa harina dissolved in 2 Tbsp water

  • Add masa harina to the sauce and stir, it will thicken just a bit.  Use your judgement here; if the chili seems to thick, add a touch of water.  If it seems too thin, add another Tbsp of masa harina dissolved in a little water.  Cook for a minute or two more, and then pour the chili into a casserole dish.  If you are making this ahead, you can refrigerate it now and finish up later.

Tamale Topping
1 cup masa harina
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp butter, very soft
very warm water (you could also use chicken or beef stock)

  • Add the salt to the masa harina, and then blend in the butter with a wooden spoon until incorporated.  It will be crumbly.
  • Whisk or stir in enough warm water to make a smooth spreadable dough.  Keep adding water until you get a thick but spreadable consistency, more or less like mashed potatoes.
  • Spoon the masa topping in large blobs across the top of the filling.  Then carefully spread it out, filling in all cracks, and going right up to the edge of the pan so the filling doesn’t bubble out during cooking.
  • Take a larger baking pan and put the caserrole inside it, then pour very hot water in the outer pan up to about an inch or two up the side of your casserole dish.
  • Cover the whole thing, outer dish and all, with foil, and bake for about an hour.  Be careful when moving the hot water bath to and from the oven.
  • Cook the pie for about an hour until the topping is slightly browned and the filling is hot throughout.  If you started with cold filling, make extra sure it’s nice and hot all the way through.
  • Serve with the Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce on the side

Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce
1 cup sour cream
1 handful fresh cilatro leaves, finely chopped
juice and zest of 1 lime
salt and fresh cracked pepper

  • Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl, and taste for seasoning.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

You can make this with ground beef or chicken instead of the steak, or make it vegetarian, but definitely try it.

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    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    Marti Miller Hall
    January 5, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Made this tonight using vegetarian “burger” crumbles and some chopped portabellas
    for the beef, and coconut oil in the masa.
    I had actually PLANNED to make tamales but couldn’t find corn husks.
    So I used your recipe (made it vegetarian) and it was perfect!
    Turned out absolutely delicious, and a million times better than the corn-bready tamale pie
    recipies you see everywhere!

    • Reply
      January 6, 2014 at 6:49 am

      So glad you liked it Marti—I haven’t made it in a long while, but I do remember the wonderful flavor of the masa harina crust.

  • Reply
    July 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    my family has a similar cornbread pie recipe, and it’s a favorite. we don’t, however, have a cilantro lime cream sauce, and that’s gonna change. 🙂

  • Reply
    Tricia @ saving room for dessert
    July 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Steak, fresh corn and earthy black beans – you are speaking to me Sue! Sounds and looks amazing. I haven’t tried masa harina but I will investigate! Have a wonderful Thursday.

  • Reply
    Thyme (Sarah)
    July 19, 2012 at 2:10 am

    It looks fantastic. I love the combination of ingredients. I would love to have this for dinner…oh, wait…I already ate dinner. Second dinner?

  • Reply
    Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti
    July 18, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    This looks so delicious! I love the spiciness of the peppers and chili sauce. When my kitchen cools down I have to try this. Too hot to cook this week, I’ve been eating salads.

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      July 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm

      I’m going on the principle that hot and spicy foods actually cool us down with all that extra sweating—not sure if it’s true, but this pie is so yummy I don’t care! Hope your weather behaves in the next week.

  • Reply
    Ellen B Cookery
    July 18, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    This looks really amazing! I like the sound of all the flavours together in one dish.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I love that idea of making the pie more authentic with the masa topping. Looks fabulous. I’ve never tried one of these, but I definitely want to.

  • Reply
    Lea Ann (Cooking on the Ranch)
    July 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Love…Love…Love this. Pinned.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Oh my gosh! This looks so good, I can’t resist tweaking my meal plan to make this tonight. Thanks, Sue!

    • Reply
      July 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm

      How could I resist a recipe that is full of ingredients that I already have in the house!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      July 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm

      Do you make tamales? I couldn’t even find corn husks in my supermarket, and here I am in Los Angeles. They must be impossible to find in most parts of the country, but I assume they’d be staples in AZ.

    • Reply
      July 19, 2012 at 5:14 am

      They are in most regular grocery stores here, but we have several Mexican markets as well. I’m always leery of tamales, because they can be so awful if they aren’t made just right. Too much masa and not nearly enough meat and fillings seems to be the most easily found version. 🙁 I adore homemade ones that are well done though. We have some friends willing to teach me this year though and I can hardly wait!!

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    I’ve had red chicken tamales on my “to-make” list for ages. Something tells me I’m not going to get to them too soon–all my mexican grandmother says when I ask her to show me how to make them is that “they take too much effort,” haha. But I would love to try this! How creative! Looks like you could adapt it, too. Maybe I’ll do my red chicken enchiladas this way…

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      July 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      How lucky are you to have a Mexican grandmother! Make her show you, and then tell me! Actually I think the effort people complain about is the wrapping and steaming part. My daughter and her boyfriend recently made tamales wrapped in foil and said they turned out great. Not as authentic, but easier.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Sorry for the simple questions, but I’ve never used the chile sauce before. Is red chile sauce the same as enchilada sauce? What brand did you use?
    Thanks, Sue… looks so great I want to get it spot on.

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      July 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm

      Good point, Kate, I’ll update that. I used Las Palmas Red Chile Sauce, which is not the same as enchilada sauce. But to be honest when I’m making chile I sometimes experiment with different kinds of sauces. You could even make a green chile for the base of this pie.

  • Reply
    July 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Yum! Looks fantastic.. will be craving this all day!